The Princess and the Pea is not one of those popular tales. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film or read anything longer than a short story adaptation of it. There are only two things that came to mind as I thought of the tale: Gail Carson Levine’s short story The Princess Test and the musical Once Upon a Mattress. My memory of the short story is hazy, and I’ve only seen clips of the musical.
So I approached this with few expectations. The story itself is quite simple and, honestly, quite silly. If you haven’t read it lately, here’s the original. Adapting something so short into a full length novel demands that more be added, but I wanted to make sure I stayed true to the spirit of the original.
This story raised several questions for me that ultimately shaped the entire novel. They were:
In addition to answering these questions in the novel, I also searched for the theme of the story. What was the main idea behind this fairy tale?
To me, this is a story of identity and lineage. The girl can only have a happy ending after she proves she is a true princess. The prince must marry a true princess, so his happiness relies on her parentage as well. Their ancestry determines their destiny. On the surface, this is a shallow motivation. It implies you aren’t worth any more than your family tree, and you never will be.
I guess I’m too modern to accept that at face value. It might have made sense at the time this story was written, but it just doesn’t ring true in today’s society. Of course lineage matters, but ultimately your actions matter more. We like to see heroes shape their own destiny, and that’s exactly what Lina and Alaric do in The Princess and the Pea.
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A. G. Marshall
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